Over the past few months, states and cities across the country have been moving to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes. Following news of increasing vape-related illnesses and deaths, the federal government announced plans to remove flavored e-cigarette pods from the market entirely.
Vermont is just one of the states this summer to enforce new rules on e-cigarettes. A 92 percent tax took effect this July along with a rise in the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 this month.
Castleton University student Leo Richardson, who recently quit vaping, feels that Vermont’s actions go too far.
“I was frustrated because it meant that I had to spend more money on a bad habit,” he said. “Raising the tax was a mistake because the people who are already buying for the most part are going to continue to buy. I think that probably changing the age to 21 was enough.”
Current e-cigarette users feel similarly, calling the tax “ridiculous.”
“I think that it’s a revenue generator by the state that picks on a group of people and I don’t think it’s fair. I just don’t,” said Keith Molinari, Castleton’s director of Public Safety.
“Just hugely hypocritical of what they claim their goal to be,” said Castleton student Will Jacob. “For smokers, the 92% tax – what does that invite them to do? Go back to smoking cigarettes?”
The federal ban is largely in response to public concern over a rise in underaged users and vape-related lung illnesses and deaths.
The debate isn’t new, with Turkey and Australia restricting nicotine-containing vapes in the late 2000’s, and pro e-cigarette groups like The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association forming at the same time.
New to the discussion is the sudden spike in vape-related illnesses and deaths.
Illinois and Wisconsin state health departments report the first incidents of illness occurred in April. There are now 530 probable cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the death count rising to eight last week.
CDC health officials recommend refraining from using e-cigarettes while they continue their investigation. Castleton University assistant nursing professor Marie McDuff agrees.
“As a nurse, I think that people should look for other ways to manage,” she said.
While many believe action needs to be taken, whether or not banning flavored vapes is the solution is still unclear.
“I think they most definitely need to find a way to enforce keeping it out of the hands of minors, but there are people of legal age who use it recreationally,” Jacob said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Richardson is unsure of the plan’s effectiveness at stopping under-aged smoking, pointing to his own experience as a smoker in high school.
“As someone who started their nicotine addiction as a teenager, I just feel like it’s going to push more of them to traditional cigarettes,” he said. “You can still buy a menthol cigarette, so if you aren’t going to be vaping a tobacco flavor or whatever it would be, then that’s going to be the draw for you.”
Children aged 12-15 who try e-cigs are four times more likely to begin smoking cigarettes later on, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This research could back both sides of the debate, showing even more of a need to keep children from vaping, but also that taking the vapes away might not be able to stop them from smoking in general.
“We just need a lot more education I think in early grade school and more of a social move to be more healthy, but it’s easier said than done, isn’t it,” said McDuff.
The health risks are still up for debate as well with only short-term studies to go off of. While the impact after years of use isn’t completely known, many believe that the chances of coming out of it with healthy lungs isn’t good.
“I always knew from the get-go that vaping wasn’t going to be as healthy as everyone sort of hoped,” Richardson said. “Everyone’s dream world was that vaping was going to be a perfect nicotine replacement and there would be no issues, but human lungs are not meant for anything besides oxygen really.”
A study published last month in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that chronic vaping increases the amount of protease enzymes in the lungs. The same condition is already associated with higher chances of lung disease in smokers.
“I don’t even vape in the house because we have a baby at home,” said Molinari. “I don’t know what any of that stuff is. I don’t think anyone truly does until science works it out. I do know that there are indicators right now that it’s not good, potentially even worse than smoking.”